Tugboat crews, Seaspan head back to the table Friday

By David P. Ball, 24 hours Vancouver

A tugboat in Vancouver harbour. (REUTERS)

A tugboat in Vancouver harbour. (REUTERS)

A labour dispute between Seaspan and two tugboat unions is headed back to mediation Friday, with Canada’s labour minister flying to Vancouver in hopes of averting another costly port strike.

Like this year’s port truckers’ strike, which cost companies an estimated $20 million in storage fees, Minister Kellie Leitch is taking a hands-on approach to the dispute. In an unusual twist, members of both unions involved voted to strike last week — but their leadership agreed to stand down pending mediation.

Likewise, Seaspan agreed to back off from its vow to impose a collective agreement Monday, which the unions said contained 46 concession demands on workers.

No mediator has been appointed, according to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 400. It voted in favour of job action June 3.

“At this point in time, we’re still hoping to get a negotiated collective agreement,” ILWU 400 president Terry Engler told 24 hours. “Unfortunately, the employer seems to have decided they’re not interested in negotiating, but we’re going to see if the minister can help us get to a place where we can get a collective agreement we can live with.”

A spokesman for Seaspan described the firm as “hopeful” for Friday’s high-level meeting with Leitch.

“We’ve agreed not to give our 72-hour strike notice until after that point,” Engler said. “The employer agreed not to impose a collective agreement — we don’t have major demands, we just want to retain the agreement that has taken us 50 years to put together.”

Andrew McGrath, the minister’s press secretary, told 24 hours Leitch hopes both sides can reach an agreement “in their mutual interest” because “marine operations are vital to keep the Canadian economy on the right track towards further growth and job creation.”


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